Wrongful Death in Nursing Homes

A patient holding his hands together

Losing a loved one to nursing home abuse is a traumatic experience for everyone. For some families, a nursing home wrongful death lawsuit is one remedy.

No one should suffer indignity, neglect, or death because they weren’t given proper care while living in a nursing home or assisted living facility. Surviving family members may take legal action by filing a personal injury lawsuit.

Rarely can a wrongful death settlement eliminate the pain of losing a loved one, but the suit may help prevent future types of nursing home abuse and negligence and give family members and friends some small peace of mind.

What is wrongful death in a nursing home?

Wrongful death in a nursing home may occur in many different ways. Some causes are straightforward, but others require extensive investigation.

The following incidents may lead to the death of a nursing home resident and a wrongful death claim from the family:

Assault or physical abuse: In a report on abuse in skilled-nursing facilities from The Advocate Magazine, statistics indicated a high rate of sexual abuse of women with physical disabilities. The report also indicated that 75 percent of women over the age of 60 lived in nursing homes when they experienced rape. Incredibly, up to 75 percent of assaults in nursing homes had at least one witness in the form of another resident or a facility employee.

Bedsores (pressure ulcers or pressure sores): A bedsore may develop when lack of movement or pressure cuts off the blood supply to a person’s skin for two or three hours. If the skin dies, a painful red welt may develop that eventually turns deep purple. When negligent staff allows bedsores to develop and go untreated, the bedsores may subsequently become infected and cause serious complications.

Broken bones: Neglected nursing home residents commonly experience broken bones in the form of hip fractures, pelvic fractures, and arm fractures. Residents may also experience leg fractures, broken vertebrae, or pelvic fractures. Some breaks and fractures occur because of actual accidents, but others happen due to negligence.

Dehydration: Dehydration occurs when a person doesn’t have enough water in their body, and that lack of water prevents the victim’s body from functioning normally. The body loses water naturally and regularly, and the individual must replace it by drinking. Persistent dehydration may lead to several health complications like seizures, kidney failure, and coma.

Falls: According to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, falls in nursing facilities frequently happen, with around half of all residents in the United States experiencing a fall in any given year. Incredibly, about one-third of individuals who fall once will fall at least once more in the same year. About 10 percent of nursing home residents who fall experience serious complications.

Malnutrition: A study conducted in 2015 and published in Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care indicated that approximately 20 percent of nursing home residents experienced some form of malnutrition. Complications from malnutrition include depression, functional and cognitive impairments, and even death.

Medical malpractice Examples of medical malpractice related to nursing home residents include failure to monitor a patient, missing changes in their vital signs and dehydration due to neglect that can result in death. Other examples include poorly trained staff and a lack of appropriate care from nurses and doctors.

Medication errors: Data shared by the American Journal of Managed Care suggests controversy exists regarding the frequency of medication errors. One study indicated that medication errors were infrequent. However, a group of researchers from Johns Hopkins suggested that a needed change to how medical professionals report medication errors would increase the problem to the third leading cause of death.

Sepsis: Sepsis is a life-threatening condition and is the body’s response to a severe infection. Sepsis may lead to septic shock, resulting in dangerously low blood pressure, organ damage, or death.

Not only can nursing home staff members cause these problems, but more significant issues may also impact the care a nursing home resident receives. Understaffing, neglect and medication errors are just a few causes of wrongful death in nursing homes. Elder abuse is an unfortunate and common occurrence in today’s nursing homes.

What must a nursing home wrongful death lawsuit prove?

Before filing a wrongful death claim, the surviving family members and their nursing home abuse lawyer must determine whether their case has merit and will succeed in court.

There are three criteria that the plaintiffs must show to prove their case and receive compensation.

The plaintiffs in a wrongful death lawsuit are the family members or individuals seeking damages or compensation from the care facility they believe caused the death.

The lawsuit must prove the following.

  • Duty of care: The plaintiffs must prove that the defendant owed the deceased person a “duty of care.” In nursing home wrongful death cases, the nursing home staff, owners, and anyone else involved in the business would be obligated to care for their nursing home patients safely.
  • Breach of duty of care: The lawsuit must prove that the defendants failed to provide their duty of care to the decedent. In the case of nursing homes, breach of duty might include the nursing home facility’s failure to hire enough caregivers, which resulted in understaffing and a lack of care for patients.
  • Causation: Proving nursing home neglect in a lawsuit also requires that the plaintiff proves the defendant’s actions were directly responsible for the victim’s death. In a nursing home case with the aforementioned understaffing issue, the family’s personal injury lawyer would prove that understaffing led directly to the victim’s death.

Can you sue a nursing home for wrongful death?

A long-term care facility or nursing home has a duty of care to its patients. Failure to meet that obligation may give surviving family members the right to sue for financial compensation.

Someone designated by the deceased individual’s will may also have the authority to file a lawsuit. A representative of the estate who has power of attorney may work with a wrongful death attorney on behalf of the deceased.

Meeting the Statute of Limitations for Nursing Home Wrongful Death Lawsuits

The statute of limitations is the amount of time a family member or authorized representative of the deceased has to file before the court no longer accepts the lawsuit.

Statutes of limitations vary in each state, so it’s important to talk to a wrongful death lawyer to figure out that timeframe and ensure the lawsuit is filed before the deadline expires.

What records do nursing home abuse lawsuits require?

A lawyer files a nursing home wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of a deceased individual and must gather evidence to give to the court during the case.

The investigation may include document collection of medical records, interviews or depositions of nursing home employees, and written answers to questions about the victim’s death.

It may take quite some time for the law firm to gather the documents and conduct depositions, mainly when the defendant is a well-funded company with a lot of money to spend on its defense. Some wrongful death lawsuits take years to resolve.

A depressed elderly man sitting on a wheelchair in a nursing home.

Nursing Home Wrongful Death Compensation

When a family’s nursing home abuse lawsuit is successful and the court awards damages to the plaintiff, the family may receive economic and non-economic compensation. The family can pay for medical bills, funeral expenses, and other costs resulting from the nursing home’s negligence.

In some states, the judge may also award punitive damages to the plaintiffs, which is a financial award above and beyond the economic compensation given for costs like medical expenses, court costs, and legal costs.

What is the difference between wrongful death and homicide?

The deceased’s family may choose to file a wrongful death lawsuit in civil court, but the government will file a homicide case in criminal court.

For example, the district attorney in a city charges a nursing home employee with homicide in criminal court for the death of one of the nursing home’s residents. In a separate legal action, the victim’s family files a wrongful death lawsuit in civil court against the employee for the death of their loved one.

The defendant faces the prospect of two trials for the same death, but the crimes they are charged with are different. The offense is labeled a homicide in criminal court and wrongful death in civil court.

Medically Reviewed by:

Dr. Patricia Shelton, MD

Picture of a woman smiling


  • University of Washington, Doctor of Medicine – MD. June 2008
  • University of Washington, Bachelor of Science – BS, Jun 2003


Neuroscience and Medicine


  • Dr. Shelton primarily writes content for health-related websites, but has also written test prep materials, white papers, published research articles, court documents, and more.
  • Dr. Shelton teaches anatomy and physiology at the college level for the National Institutes of Health.

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Our fact-checking process begins with a thorough review of all sources to ensure they are high quality. Then we cross-check the facts with original medical or scientific reports published by those sources, or we validate the facts with reputable news organizations, medical and scientific experts and other health experts. Each page includes all sources for full transparency.
Our fact-checking process begins with a thorough review of all sources to ensure they are high quality. Then we cross-check the facts with original medical or scientific reports published by those sources, or we validate the facts with reputable news organizations, medical and scientific experts and other health experts. Each page includes all sources for full transparency.